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Correctional Insights

How did the Government Shutdown Affect Inmates?

Regardless of your political view, the government shutdown had serious implications for federal workers around the country. However, it wasn’t only federal employees who felt the impact of the government shutdown, but inmates as well. So let’s discuss the effects:

Short-Staffed

The problems that inmates experience during a shutdown stem from short-staffed prisons. During a shutdown, the Bureau of Prisons only allows employees to continue working if their duties involve “the safety of human life or the protection of property.”

According to The Marshall Project, up to half of the Bureau of Prisons’ staff was furloughed during this past shutdown—the longest shutdown in U.S. history. The remaining employees were asked to keep working unpaid and focus on maintaining security.

Local jails also often receive funding from the government to house federal inmates, and they too felt the impact.

So how does this affect inmates?

Many social visits for inmates were cancelled because of a lack of staff. Being able to keep up with communication to friends and family members helps inmates build and maintain relationships and reduces recidivism. Its importance cannot be understated; check out this previous Encartele article on the subject.

Arguably, more important is an inmate’s ability to be able to meet with their legal aid. The Bureau of Prisons confirmed to the criminal justice journalism team, The Appeal, that this had happened in Brooklyn and Manhattan. When a lawyer isn’t allowed to meet with their client, it can delay court proceedings and sentencing, extending the amount of custody time.

Applications that inmates filed for “compassionate release,” often went unread during the shutdown. Compassionate release is a process that is eligible to inmates who have special humanitarian circumstances, like terminal illness. These people do not have time to wait around. They want to be able to get home as soon as possible and spend their remaining days with their loved ones.

Inmates in varying situations were deprived of educational classes, library access and programs, as well as transfers and visits with mental-health professionals.

Though it was denied by the Bureau of Prisons, The New York Times reported that some prisoners went on hunger strikes, protesting the cuts that their facilities faced.

The government shutdown directly affected inmates who were unable to do anything to change their circumstances.

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Correctional Insights

Journalists Facing Hard-Time Abroad

“I was in a solitary cell for five days, only allowed one hour in the courtyard. You could go crazy after a while,” Asli Erdoğan wrote of her time in a Turkish jail. “I spent 48 hours without water when I first arrived. I was in shock, which worked a bit like an anesthetic.”

Erdoğan, a Turkish writer/journalist, was arrested for terrorist propaganda in 2016. Wordsmiths, like Erdoğan, have a hard time expressing opinions in their own country, let alone a foreign one.

Journalists can incur the wrath of the public by investigating events, writing less-than popular opinion pieces or by criticizing the wrong people. Reporters travel the world to cover events and interesting topics, like a once-in-a-lifetime solar eclipse or a civil war in Syria. It’s a sad fact of life that they aren’t always safe while working overseas.

Press Rights are Important for Freedom

While journalists from all backgrounds are subjected to scrutiny, those from the United States get to enjoy certain freedoms which others may not. The first amendment of the U.S. Constitution outlines the freedom of the press. This amendment essentially allows U.S. citizens to write about any subject without fear of imprisonment, though that is not always true.

Founding fathers of the U.S., James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, started the National Gazette to criticize officials and their newly-formed government. Freedom of the press has been essential since the founding of the United States and continues to be pertinent to the American way of life. While Americans may be able to criticize their government and live without fear, doing the same in other countries can carry significant consequences. However, the rest of the world isn’t only worse-off compared to America.

Though the U.S. has freedom of the press, it isn’t even in the top ten countries with the most press freedom. Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, Finland, Switzerland, Jamaica, Belgium, New Zealand, Denmark and Costa Rica make up the top ten countries with the best freedom of press laws. The United States sits at 45 in 2018, which is a decrease from 43rd place in 2017. China, Syria, Turkmenistan, Eritrea and North Korea are the bottom five countries with the worst freedom of press laws.

According to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, there are currently four imprisoned journalists and 36 who have been attacked here in the U.S. These figures are small potatoes compared to Turkey’s 73 imprisoned journalists and China’s 41. So while we may not be the best, we’re far from being the worst.

Turkey has Largest Number of Imprisoned Journalists

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s rule has been problematic for journalists as well as academics, elected government officials and human rights workers.

According to IRIN, “50,000 people have been jailed for suspected ties to the attempted takeover.”

A coup was started in July 2016 which resulted in mass imprisonments and overcrowded prisons. Journalists, like Ahmet Altan and Mehmet Altan, have been jailed for allegedly sending concealed messages to those who participated in the attempt to overthrow Erdoğan. The brothers face the possibility of life in prison.

“Allegations of torture and mistreatment in prisons have also increased over the last year. Prisoners have reported being held in stress positions over prolonged periods, while also being subjected to sleep deprivation, beatings, sexual abuse, and threats of rape,” wrote IRIN staff.

Agencies in charge of the oversight of prison conditions have been disbanded since the coup, which has allowed the Turkish prison administrations and guards to operate without constraint.

Turkish political prisoners are reported to be treated more harshly than other prisoners since Erdogan became president. They are often transferred to prisons far from their family and court proceedings, thus weakening their resolve and defense.

Sometimes journalists aren’t subjected to hard-time while abroad, only to experience horrifying treatment within their home countries.

Journalists experience hard-time abroad

American journalists do have a hard-time abroad and face comparatively little resistance within the U.S. When American journalists are captured or arrested, it is widely-broadcast across the country.

Laura Ling and Euna Lee, two journalists from the United States, were arrested in North Korea in 2009. The duo was accused of entering the country illegally in March 2009 and later found guilty. Lee and Ling were on assignment reporting about North Korean women being trafficked out of the country.

According to an Associated Press article, “The Central Court in Pyongyang sentenced each to 12 years of ‘reform through labor’ in a North Korean prison after a five-day trial, KCNA said in a terse, two-line report that provided no further details. A Korean-language version said they were convicted of ‘hostility toward the Korean people.’”

North Korea is vastly different from every other country in the world as their leader, Kim Jong-Un, is fiercely private about the way their country works. The borders are heavily guarded, and all punishments are severe.

Lim Hye-jin, a former North Korean prison guard, described the inner workings of the North Korean prison system in The Daily Mail. If found guilty of some crime, the punishment is often hard labor. Within the prison, prisoners are often beaten, tortured, raped or killed. Punishments can be collective, as to warn other inmates not to repeat anything perceived as wrongdoing. Hye-jin said most guards did not see prisoners as people and treated them horrendously.

While Lee and Ling were released before being sent to a hard labor camp, they could have faced similar punishments. Not only do journalists face a hard-time abroad, tourists can as well, in cases like Otto Warmbier’s and Kenneth Bae’s.

Reuters journalists jailed for archaic law

Kyaw Soe Oo and Wa Lone are two journalists working for Reuters, an international news agency. The pair are from Myanmar and cover controversial issues within the country.

In December 2017, Soe Oo and Lone, were investigating the massacre of Rohingya villagers in the Rakhine state at the hands of the Myanmar military. The Rohingya are an ethnic minority group and predominantly practice Islam in a largely Buddhist country.

The two journalists met police for a meal after which they were arrested on suspicion of violating Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act, due to their possession of information about the Rakhine state. They pleaded not guilty and were held in custody for more than 300 days.

After suspicious happenings throughout the proceedings by officials, the Reuters journalists were sentenced to seven years in prison on Sept. 3. There has been no information to where they are or how they will be detained.

Myanmar’s most notorious jail for political prisoners, Insein, is widely-known for its torture and inhumane treatment of inmates.

A former inmate, Philip Blackwood, was in Insein for more than a year. At the beginning of his sentence, he was kept in a small cell with no windows and a hole leading to an open sewer for a toilet. Blackwood endured a hard-time abroad and lived through a nightmare of less-than livable conditions in a prison known for its inhumanity.

For a free world to prosper, there must be freedom of press. Benjamin Franklin once said, “Freedom of speech is a principal pillar of a free government; when this support is taken away, the constitution of a free society is dissolved.”

Journalism itself faces a hard-time abroad in countries that oppress voices critical of power. Reading and writing contribute to societies by offering alternative perspectives, whether it be a first-person account of a war zone or retelling tales of an elderly person’s youth. These alternative perspectives must be protected in order for humanity to progress.

Freedom of speech has been restricted in every country across the world at some point in history, and the free-thinkers are always the persecuted.

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Correctional Insights

Why Inmate Phones are Not a Public Utility

Nearly a decade ago, a debate began in earnest as to whether or not inmate phone providers could be considered public utility companies. This discussion on rate regulation formally began with Illinois congressional representative Bobby L. Rush’s bill, HR 555, The Family Telephone Connection Protection Act of 2007. The bill was never enacted into law, but it brought into consideration the idea of regulating inmate telephone services.

Many people still feel strongly that the inmate phone industry requires more government regulation. A new bill introduced in March would grant the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulatory power over interstate inmate calls, and last November, the ACLU published a report concerning this issue. The idea that inmate phone calls have to be expensive is reprehensible to many people and organizations, including our Encartele. We disagree with our competitors about this point, but as industry experts, we are also well-acquainted with the hard costs and labor that go into building and maintaining these communication infrastructures.

There’s a very good reason why inmate phone companies cannot be regulated like public utilities. Simply put, the companies in question do not meet the legal definition of a public utility company. We agree with the ACLU that the inmate phones industry needs better government regulation, but we can’t operate like public utilities.

What is a Public Utility?

It’s an elusive concept, but understanding what a public utility is and is not makes up a crucial part of this discussion. The government’s authority to regulate public utilities has been questioned ever since FDR’s New Deal in the 1930’s, (Historia). Today, the turbulent techno-legal landscape of the U.S. makes this topic even trickier to discuss.

According to the Cornell Law School website (which pulls a definition from Nolo’s Plain English Law Dictionary):

“[A] public utility is any organization which provides services to the general public, although it may be privately owned. Public utilities include electric, gas, telephone, water, and television cable systems, as well as streetcar and bus lines. Public utilities are allowed certain monopoly rights because of the practical need to service entire geographic areas with one system, but they are regulated by state, county, and city public utility commissions under state laws.”

That’s a bit of a mouthful, so let’s break it down:

  1. A public utility provides the general public with a service.
  2. A public utility can be publicly or privately owned.
  3. A public utility requires government regulation, because they are allowed certain monopoly rights to service geographic areas with one system (also known as a natural monopoly).

You may have noticed that telephones were mentioned in that Cornell definition. So that means inmate phones are utilities too then, right? Wrong. There are a whole host of differences between both services. Let’s take a look at a few of them.

Inmate Phones aren’t for the General Public

Every homeowner gets thirsty and needs water pumped into their homes, but not everyone needs to use an inmate phone provider. Some people will go their entire lives without ever receiving an inmate phone call, and that’s just the nature of the business. Inmate phone infrastructure and solutions were never intended for the general public’s use, they were designed by and for the corrections industry.

In addition, both services have very different expressed-use scenarios. Counties often use ITS solutions to facilitate rehabilitation among their detainees, while telephone service for the general public can be used in any number of ways. Public calls can be made at any hour of the day, whereas inmate phone calls are restricted to certain time periods for security reasons. The telephone service provider has no requirement to maintain and store call data for years and years after the call was initiated, for investigative purposes. Nor is the public utility telephone service obligated to cover the entire cost of their infrastructure regardless of whether a monopolistic region will be profitable or not.

Modern inmate telephone systems require a significant number of additional security features that ordinary phone service providers don’t need to develop or maintain. This is part of the reason why inmate phone calls are so much more expensive than regular phone calls.

According to a 2010 report from the Congressional Research Service, the exclusive contractual arrangements negotiated between jails and telephone service providers ensure security and allow them to monitor inmate phone calls. This report also stated that The National Sheriffs Association told Congress in 2009 that changing these arrangements could endanger public safety.

Conclusion

Inmate phone providers by definition are not utilities. We serve highly select populations, and our infrastructure is not accessible for general-purpose use by the public. As we mentioned above, Encartele agrees that inmate phone calls shouldn’t have to be expensive. That’s why we strive to offer affordable rates for all our services, especially CIDNET Mail.

That being said, we also understand that our industry faces some major challenges, mainly in the form of the high cost of commissions levied out in our contracts. If reform-minded organizations wanted to affect meaningful change for friends and family members of inmates, they’d call for something like a nationwide ITS commissions cap rather than utility regulation. Currently, ITS providers don’t compete based on the per-minute cost of the phone calls, they compete based on the commissions they can offer to counties. Capping these commissions would go a long way towards returning a true sense of competition to our industry, and reducing the per-minute cost of the phone call in the process.

Politicians and the ACLU are right about the per-minute costs of inmate calling being too high. Unfortunately, they’re wrong about the best way to lower them.

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Correctional Insights

Gender Behind Bars

How Does An Inmate’s Gender Change a Stint in Jail?

One of the most popular shows on Netflix right now is Orange Is the New Black, a show chronicling the incarceration of Piper Chapman and other inmates at a New York women’s correctional facility. While the show is fictional, the events are based off the real-life experience of Piper Kerman, who authored a book with the same name as the showThe great thing about this Netflix original is how relateable its characters are. Whether it’s Flaca, Red, Sophia or Taystee on screen, the episodes make you care about the horrific, funny and dramatic things happening to these female inmates. No punches are pulled when it comes to emotional impacts, and the show deals with a number of topics that may be hard to talk about.

Gender, for example, is a subject that is hard to talk about at any age. Perhaps we don’t like to talk about how our bodies differ because we like to pretend that everyone is the same, and that we all have the same basic wants and needs. Episodic television shows like Orange Is the New Black and Prison Break allow us to forge past these taboos and begin to talk about these concepts in a thoughtful, rational way. Let’s keep that conversation going, and dive into how gender affects the incarceration industry:

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Gender Disparities

There is a gender disparity among the American prison population. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, females make up only seven percent of the prison population while males make up 93 percent. Currently, there are no solid numbers for those who do not identify with either binary gender, but we have to assume some of these people have also entered the criminal justice system in some way. The question is, how are they being treated within the system?

According to a Reuters staff article, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons released new guidelines in May 2018 concerning non-binary prisoners, “An inmate’s biological sex will now be used to make the initial decision as to where transgender prisoners are housed, instead of the gender to which they identify.” This decisions has enormous consequences.

Lesley Webster, a transgender woman who was formerly incarcerated in a men’s facility, said that during her time there, she had her hair cut off and was subjected to 90 days in solitary confinement. Webster claimed this was due to the gender which she identified with.

While it is unknown how many situations similar to Webster’s occur across our country, San Francisco and New York City have created policies to help prevent state mistreatment of non-binary people.

Sadie Gribbon of the San Francisco Examiner wrote, “In an effort to make conditions safer for all inmates, San Francisco County’s jails will be the first in the U.S. to allow individuals who identify as transgender, gender variant or non-binary to choose their preferred housing, be identified by their proper pronoun and to choose the gender of the person searching them.”

Following in San Francisco’s footsteps, New York City will start to house inmates according to their gender identity beginning in October 2018. These kinds of policies certainly stray from the norm, but it remains to be seen whether or not they’ll be effective for a US corrections environment.

Top 5 States with the most male corrections officers next to the top 5 states with the most female corrections officers.
We decided to augment our discussion of gender and corrections by doing a little fact-finding. These graphics directly pertain to the gender divide of Correctional Officers across the nation.

Program Access and Treatment Disparities

In a Monitor on Psychology article by Jared C. Clark, Dr. Stephanie Covington, co-director of the Center for Gender and Justice, said “women are offered fewer programs than men, and the services provide little recognition of the traumatic paths that led them into the criminal justice system.” Which is not to say that males entering institutions for the first time haven’t also experienced trauma, but that the available programs at female facilities are especially wanting.

In Clark’s article, he said one state in the eastern U.S. offers a parenting program in 27 male facilities while the same parenting program is only available in 2 female facilities.

Incarcerated women often also suffer from a lack of hygiene products, such as tampons and pads. In a Broadly article by Annamarya Scaccia, “The New York City Department of Corrections currently provides 144-count boxes of thin, non-adhesive pads per 50 inmates, per week, in the Rose M. Singer Center—the only women’s facility in the Rikers Island jail complex.”

From a 144-count box, every woman would receive 2.8 pads during their menstrual cycle, which is not only unsanitary, but potentially life-threatening. Women that re-use pads and feminine napkins often develop bacterial infections or Toxic Shock Syndrome. For all the money a facility might save by skimping on these hygiene products, just a single episode of illness resulting from this practice would wipe out those savings immediately when the associated costs are factored in. Not to mention the genuine discontent it causes among inmates in the facility.

Scaccia wrote that other name-brand feminine hygiene products are sold through the commissary, but often at marked-up prices. More than half of the women in the facility live below the poverty line, and these reoccurring purchases can really hurt.

But some county officials have already begun to take action on these fronts. In Dane County in Wisconsin, Board Supervisor Heidi Wegleitner passed a resolution that would provide feminine hygiene products in free dispensers in its correctional facilities and other buildings.

Bridging the gap between the genders

Women, men and those who do not identify with either traditional binary gender all have different needs, and therefore require different care. Male and female facilities have to treat their inmates differently, but this should only apply to how an inmate’s needs are met; not whether their needs are met at all. This doesn’t mean that every staff member and CO needs to attend gender sensitivity training. Instead, for officers whose populations demand it, additional education could eliminate gender-based mistreatment at facilities across the country.

In Orange Is the New Black, Litchfield inmate Sophia Burset is a transgender African-American woman who is threatened with harsh treatment after she is targeted by other inmates. The guards and administration move her into isolation for her own safety, even though isolation is usually reserved as a punishment. Burset stayed in isolation for six months, and during that time she didn’t get to interact with another person, see the sun or receive the hormone therapy she’d been prescribed. Burset acted out and attempted suicide during this time. The staff and administration obviously should have used other measures to ensure her safety, but what should they have done instead? It’s a tough question to answer.

Jail administrators across the country may not realize it, but there’s a whole community of advocates and organizations that want to help answer questions like these. Human suffering, public ire, and lawsuits could all be avoided if we all just took a second to realize how different we are, and how differently the world treats each of us.

Want to see how egalitarian your state’s distribution of Correctional Officers is? Click the image below:

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Correctional Insights

Contraband: How Facilities Find It

What do birds, burritos, and balloons all have in common? They’ve all been used to smuggle contraband into prisons.

Broadly speaking, contraband is anything within a correctional facility that could be used to make a weapon, get you high, or talk to someone in the outside world.

While each facility has it’s own list of prohibited items, the three major categories of banned items include weapons, narcotics and electronic devices. As a general rule, inmates caught with contraband face additional charges and added time on their sentences, but that doesn’t stop them from trying to smuggle it into facilities.

To keep dope, shanks and cellphones out of their facilities, correctional officers have to be eagle-eyed; here’s how they do it.

Keeping an Eye Out for Contraband

In an Associated Press article posted to the Daily Herald’s website, Assistant Jail Commander Lieutenant Robin Byers said a majority of contraband is made by inmates out of items, such as soap and papier-mache. Byers said one of the more memorable attempts to smuggle in drugs was when an inmate hid them behind a false eye.

Whether it’s drugs, cellphones or weapons, inmates are always finding new ways to sneak contraband into correctional facilities.

According to Vernon Freeman Jr., of WTVR, a pigeon was found with a cell phone and battery attached to its back by corrections officers in Sao Paulo’s Franco da Rocha prison. Officers were clued into the failed attempt after several inmates tried to catch the bird in the prison yard.

While birds aren’t exactly the simplest mode of transporting contraband into prisons, other detainees have attempted even more hi-tech forms of smuggling.

Waseem Abbasi of USA Today reported that drones were being used to drop off items into a prison. USA Today submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to find proof of these attempts, and the government verified them. The Department of Justice sent several documents to the news outlet which “…uncovered more than a dozen attempts to transport contraband — including mobile phones, drugs and porn — into federal prisons in the past five years,” Abbasi wrote.

One such incident happened in South Carolina in 2014 according to an article by Harriet McLeod for Reuters. A drone was used to send in cell phones, marijuana and tobacco, but it crashed outside the correctional facility’s walls.

Perfecting Search Techniques

Of course, drones aren’t the preferred method for smuggling. Most inmates hide contraband in objects or clothing, such as books or underwear, and attempt to sneak it into general population.

Byers told the Associated Press, “’We do find a lot of it. Some of it does get into general population. We find a lot of drugs during strip searches around the anal cavity. Sometimes we’ll find it in a plastic bag or balloon.’”

Correctional officers must be eagle-eyed to find contraband in and around the facility. It is standard procedure to search inmates before they are incarcerated. In men’s and women’s correctional facilities, inmates are subjected to cavity searches as contraband is frequently hidden there. Prisons are now performing X-rays on incoming inmates to help identify forbidden objects that could be hidden within organs, such as the stomach.

If an inmate swallows a balloon of narcotics, they are moved to a dry cell until they pass the substance or have the objects removed surgically. The inmate must be monitored during this time, so that stomach acid doesn’t deteriorate the bag and cause an overdose.

Balloons and bags are easily found during X-rays. Bonneville County Jail in Idaho Falls, Idaho has trained correctional officers to look for any abnormalities, whether it be something metal on their clothes or contraband in the stomach or body cavity.

According to Johnathan Hogan of the Idaho Post Register, “Deputies are trained to recognize what an X-ray should look like with no hidden items and what items may look like when hidden on an X-ray, making it easier to recognize when someone is hiding contraband.”

Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office Lieutenant Michael Pickett told Hogan that the body cavity is the most commonly used way to sneak in contraband. The jail subjects inmates and their cells to searches every week to help reduce the passage of contraband around the facility.

The Main Goal is Safety

Correctional officers don’t perform searches just for inmate safety, but for their own as well. It’s an officer’s duty to protect inmates and help them on their road to rehabilitation. Homemade weapons and drug-trading threaten everyone in a facility.

According to McLeod, “Illegal cellphones, an issue in prisons nationwide, have drawn particular alarm in South Carolina. In 2010, a cellphone smuggled into the same prison was used to order a hit on a prison officer, who was shot six times at his home but survived.”

Corrections officers deal with possible dangers every day when they enter their workplace. Inmates may be the most obvious threat to safety, but they aren’t the only one, as visitors can bring in harmful objects as well.

A corrections officer’s main goal is facility security and having illegal items smuggled into a correctional facility endangers everyone.